Starting high school

This is a guide for parents and carers who want to enrol their child in a high school in NSW. It provides information on choosing a school, understanding how to enrol your child and applying for financial support. 

1

Things to know before your child starts high school

High schools are different from primary schools:

  • classes are organised differently
  • there are more core and elective subjects
  • they can be larger in size
  • students have more personal responsibility

In NSW, high school begins in year 7 and goes to year 12. Most students start high school when they’re 11 or 12 years old. 

The school year begins late January to early February. It has 4 terms and generally finishes around the middle of December.

There are different types of government high schools:

  • local comprehensive high schools accept all students who live in the local enrolment area and accept other students outside the area if there are spots available
  • selective high schools accept students who achieve the highest results in the selective high school placement test. Applications for year 5 students are available in October and tests are held the following March
  • specialist high schools focus on a subject area like languages, performing arts, sports or technology. In some schools, the application process may include a performance or audition.
  • central schools are combined primary and high schools, usually found in rural and isolated areas

As well as school-run assessments, high school students in NSW can be awarded:

  • a Record of School Achievement (replaces the School Certificate), which records academic results up until the date a student leaves school, or 
  • the Higher School Certificate (HSC) for completing Years 11 and 12

A student's HSC mark will affect which courses they can apply for at universities and colleges.

Attending a non-government school

If you’re thinking of a private or independent school for your child, find out more at:

Temporary 457 and 482 visa holders

If you’re a parent or carer with a temporary resident visa and want to send your child to a high school in NSW, you may need to pay fees depending on the age of your child.

However, you may be eligible for an exemption or a refund depending on your situation.

Learn more about visa and enrolment requirements at the Temporary Residents Program

International students

Parents or carers of overseas students wanting to enrol their child in a government school can find out what they need to do at DE International, the international unit of the NSW Department of Education.

Depending on the age of the student there may also be English language requirements.

If your enrolment is successful, you'll receive a confirmation from DE International, which you then use to apply for a student visa.

2

Find and select a high school

Most NSW public high schools have a catchment zone or local enrolment area. If you live inside a school’s enrolment area, your child is guaranteed a place at that school.

Your child can go to a school outside your local enrolment area only if that school has places available. 

You should only enrol in one school at any given time.

How to find a high school

Depending on the number of schools in your local enrolment area, you may want to consider these factors before deciding on a high school for your child:

  • the school’s reputation in the local community 
  • its academic performance
  • its location and how close it is to where you live and public transport
  • any specific educational programs or curriculum focus, like catering for children with disability or additional learning needs
  • the availability of special religion or ethics classes
  • the school culture and best fit for your child
  • curriculum and extracurricular activities
  • how technology is used in the classrooms
  • services for students from non-English speaking backgrounds
  • the general condition of the buildings, classrooms and playgrounds

School Finder online tool

The NSW Department of Education’s online School Finder helps locate schools in your local enrolment area.

You can enter your home address or search by a school’s name. There are other filtering options available as well as guidelines on how to use the School Finder.

Rural and remote students

The School Finder lists schools within 105km of your home.

If you live further than this from your nearest public school, you can find more information for geographically isolated students at the Rural and Distance Education website.

Children with disability or additional learning needs

Most high schools in NSW provide a range of enrolment and support options for children with disability or additional learning needs.

There is also a number of schools designated for specific purposes (SSPs) that offer specialised levels of support.

Make an appointment with the school’s principal to find out more about what disability services, support classes and SSP placements might be available. Consider doing this at least 12 to 18 months before your child starts high school.

The Raising Children Network, which is supported by the Department of Social Services, has information on choosing, enrolling and support options for children with disability and their schooling.

Going to a school outside your area

Schools can accept enrolments from parents who live outside that school’s local enrolment area if places are available.

But there is no guarantee that your application will be successful.

Applications from parents outside a local enrolment area are usually assessed on a range of criteria, including:

  • if siblings are already enrolled at the school
  • if you have a child with disability or additional needs that are better met at this school
  • medical reasons such as improved access to specialist local health services
  • special interests and abilities such as language or music classes
3

Enrol your child in high school

Once you have decided on a high school, you’ll need to enrol your child.

Expression of interest

Before enrolling, you’ll need to complete an expression of interest form. This is generally done in March the year before your child starts high school.

You’ll be able to indicate on this form if you want your child to attend their local school or if you’re seeking other placements, such as a specialist or non-local school.

You can list up to 3 schools in order of preference. There may be extra application requirements for placements other than in your local school. The school can let you know what these are.

For year 7 enrolments at a public school, submit the expression of interest form:

  • to your current NSW public primary school, or
  • directly to your chosen high school if your child isn’t currently enrolled in a NSW public primary school

For enrolments in years 8 to 12, send the expression of interest form directly to your chosen high school.

Check key dates for applying to a selective high school at Education NSW.

Application to enrol

Once your child has been offered a place, you’ll be sent an enrolment application form in term 2 or 3, which must be completed in English. 

If you need help with English you can:

The school principal will consider the application and confirm by letter if it’s been successful. 

1

Documents needed

Along with the completed application to enrol form (PDF 770KB), there are usually several supporting documents that will need to be provided, depending on your circumstances:

Non-Australian citizens will also need to provide:

  • passport or travel documents
  • current and previous visa (if applicable)

Temporary visa holders will also need to provide, depending on your circumstances:

  • passport or travel documents
  • current and previous visa (if applicable)
  • authority to enrol issued by the Temporary Residents Program
  • authority to enrol or evidence of permission to transfer issued by DE International (for international students)
  • evidence of the visa the student has applied for
2

Immunisation requirements

Parents are required to provide an immunisation certificate when enrolling their child at high school. 

The NSW Immunisation Schedule (PDF) outlines what vaccinations parents and carers need to be up to date with for their children.

The Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) records all your child’s vaccinations.

Some children may be exempt from vaccinations due to medical reasons or natural immunity. This will still be captured on their history statement as up to date. 

If you choose not to vaccinate your child, you can still enrol them without an immunisation certificate.

However, if there is an outbreak of a vaccine preventable disease, your child may be asked to stay at home until it is safe to return to school.

School vaccinations

Students in Year 7 and Year 10 will be offered recommended vaccines at school. Information kits are generally sent home to parents and carers early in the school year.

To consent to vaccination, parents and carers are advised to read all the information provided, complete and sign the consent form and return it to their child's school. 

3

Religion and ethics classes

All government schools offer a range of classes in religious education or ethics. The actual classes available will vary between schools but will generally be a choice of:

  • instruction in a specific religion that is delivered by approved representatives of that religion
  • religious education that looks more generally at the world’s major religions and how those beliefs affect lives
  • ethics classes

Parents can also choose not to send their children to any religious or ethics classes. In that case, students attend other supervised activities such as reading, study or homework.

A separate form indicating your preference will be provided by the school. You’ll need to complete and submit this as part of the enrolment process.

4

Distance education and international students

NSW students who are geographically isolated or whose circumstances mean they’re unable  to attend regular classes may be able to apply for distance education.

International students 

Some public high schools in NSW offer programs for international students. 

There are English language requirements for entry into high school. Students who can’t show that they’ve met the minimum English levels will have to enrol in a NSW government school's Intensive English Centre (IEC).

5

Students with disability or additional needs

There are a range of enrolment and support options for children with disability or additional learning needs, including:

  • extra support in regular schools
  • specialist support classes in regular schools
  • specialist support classes in schools for specific purposes (SSPs or special schools)

Parents or carers should meet with their school's principal and learning and support team to begin planning:

  • early in the year before starting high school for a student with disability or additional needs
  • up to 2 years before starting high school for a student that needs help with access or mobility

This can involve identifying:

  • which educational option is best suited for your child’s learning and support needs
  • the school's resources and procedures to address specific student health issues like asthma, anaphylaxis, epilepsy or ADHD 
  • any adjustments that may be needed, such as building modifications, visual supports and access to technology
  • key contacts at the intended high school
  • a timeline for the transition process

Enrolment for high school students with disability or additional needs is the same as for all students. 

6

If a non-local enrolment is refused

If you enrolled your child at a high school outside your local enrolment area and were not offered a place at your first choice school:

  • your child will be considered for placement at your second choice, and
  • if you weren’t offered a place at your second choice school, your child will then be considered for placement at your third choice school

If no place is available, you may be placed on the waiting list or your child will be placed in your local school that was listed in the expression of interest form. 

You can appeal the decision. Check with the school to find out what their process is, but it generally requires you to write a letter to the principal outlining the reasons why you’re appealing the decision.

If you’re not satisfied by the outcome of that letter, the matter can then be referred to a local principals network or similar independent body to make a final decision.

4

Preparing your child for high school

Many high schools offer activities to help prepare new students, including:

  • orientation or open days, generally held in the final months of the year for children intending to start school the following year
  • transition to year 7 programs

Check with your local school for details.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s important to talk to your new school if your child has:

  • any learning and support needs
  • any known allergies or medical conditions
  • been diagnosed as being at risk of anaphylaxis

Practical preparations ahead of the first day of school can also help make starting high school easier and calm any nerves, including:

  • buying and wearing in uniforms and shoes
  • buying school supplies
  • practise travelling to and from school
  • learning how to use transport apps or read a timetable
  • getting to know other students beforehand

Safety in and around schools

Children new to a school area will need to become familiar with:

  • car or public transport drop-off and pick-up locations
  • where school crossings are

They should be aware of the dangers of being distracted when using or crossing the road, including:

  • talking or texting on the phone
  • wearing headphones
  • when in big groups

The On the Move secondary school road safety education program offers resources that help students identify and reduce road safety risks to become safer pedestrians, passengers and drivers.

Changing schools

Changing schools partway through a year can be challenging, whether it’s a move to a new suburb, city, state or country.

Challenges can include:

  • repeating or missing out on topics 
  • learning or communicating in a new language
  • leaving friends behind and making new friends
5

Starting high school

There are 4 terms in the school year. Check school terms dates for all NSW schools at Education NSW. 

The Education Standards Authority provides a range of resources to help parents know more about the syllabus for years 7 to 8, 9 to 10 and 11 to 12.

Public transport

Check with your school for more information on the best public transport option for your child.

There is a range of free or reduced cost transport services available to help children get to and from school. 

Special eligibility conditions may apply depending on your child’s age and the distance you live from the school. 

Transport NSW provides several options for eligible students as part of the School Student Transport Scheme (SSTS), including the:

  • school Opal card for free travel on approved metro, train, bus, ferry and light rail services during school term
  • school term bus passes for students who don’t qualify for free school travel
  • school drive subsidy to help cover the cost of using a private vehicle in areas where no public transport is available

Becoming part of a school community

Starting high school is a new experience that can involve many changes for students, including:

  • going to a larger school
  • changing classrooms and teachers for each subject
  • choosing elective subjects
  • more responsibility for managing their schoolwork and study
  • making new friends and dealing with peer pressure

Becoming part of the school community can make the adjustment to high school easier for your child.

Ways for parents to get involved

Becoming part of your school’s community can help you connect with your child as well as with other parents and school staff. 

Ways you can participate include:

  • joining social media channels like your school’s Facebook group to find out what’s going on and connect with other parents
  • volunteering for the school canteen, excursions, events or committees
  • contributing to any school council, parent club or local parents and citizens (P&C) group

Helping students at home

Your child will be expected to do more homework and independent study when they start high school, including:

  • set homework (revision of what’s covered in class)
  • assessments and assignments
  • regular additional study (such as summarising key ideas, extra reading and practise tasks like essays and maths tests)

Developing a routine and having a set place to do homework can reduce distractions and help reinforce work done in class.

Find more information about parenting and studying at high school at:

6

Costs and financial help

While public education is free, most schools request voluntary contributions to help cover the costs of:

  • extracurricular activities
  • additional education resources 
  • attending or participating in sports events
  • going on excursions

The cost of school supplies like uniforms, textbooks, equipment and stationery are generally covered by parents and will need to be planned for in your budget.

Schools will usually provide a checklist of what they provide, and what parents or carers are expected to supply. 

If you’re unable to pay because of financial hardship, you may be eligible for exemptions or financial help from the school. 

Contact the school to find out more or to discuss your situation.

Allowances, subsidies and scholarships

There are federal and state government payments you or your child may be eligible for that can help cover the cost of sending your child to school, including:

Child Care Subsidy

If your child attends high school, you may be able to get help with the costs of care before and after school hours as part of the Child Care Subsidy program. Your child must be:

  • 13 or under or
  • 14 to 18 with disability

If you get the child care subsidy and meet certain criteria, you may also be able to get the additional Child Care Subsidy.

National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

Children with disability or additional needs have the same rights to education as all other children.

The NDIS can fund reasonable and necessary costs that helps a child with disability go to school, including:

  • support with daily living activities at school like eating and getting around
  • specialised training of teachers
  • non-educational therapies delivered during school time

Scholarships

There are a range of scholarships available to students in public high schools. Who can apply will depend on the particular scholarship.

Creative Kids voucher

This is a one-off payment to eligible parents and carers of up to $100 per calendar year. 

The voucher can be used with a registered provider to pay for a range of activities, including:

  • creative arts
  • drama and dance
  • digital design and coding
  • music lessons

Travel and transport

There is a range of free or reduced cost transport services available to help children get to and from school. 

Special eligibility conditions may apply depending on your child’s age and the distance you live from the school. 

Check with your school for more information on the best public transport option for your child.

Transport NSW provides several options for eligible students as part of the School Student Transport Scheme (SSTS), including the:

  • school Opal card for free travel on approved metro, train, bus, ferry and light rail services during school term
  • school term bus passes for students who don’t qualify for free school travel
  • school drive subsidy to help cover the cost of using a private vehicle in areas where no public transport is available

Other school transport programs

Families who have a child with disability may be eligible for help through the Assisted School Travel Program (ASTP).

Children living in remote areas may be able to get the Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme from Services Australia.

7

Get support

Starting high school can be both exciting and stressful for children and parents or carers. 

There’s a range of support services available that can help encourage a healthy and productive learning environment.

Student wellbeing

Most schools have a range of programs designed to help support students’ social and emotional learning as well as their physical wellbeing, including:

Adolescence can also be a time where increased consumption of soft and energy drinks as well as sugary foods could have adverse effects on your child's teeth and gums.

Health NSW has information and resources for parents to address any oral health concerns they might have for their children.

Additionally, the Raising Children Network, which is supported by the Department of Social Services, has a number of health and daily care resources for high school age children.

There are also specific support services available from Education NSW for:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
  • refugee students
  • multicultural education needs
  • English language learners
  • students with disability

Emotional and mental health

Starting high school can mean a lot of changes for your child. 

The challenges of new routines, making new friends and academic expectations can affect their emotional and mental wellbeing. 

You and your child can get help at:

Help for parents

A child starting high school can mean major changes to your family’s life, routines and relationships.

Education NSW's A-Z parent's guide is an alphabetical list of common topics covering a wide range of subjects, from attendance to wellbeing.

You can also find support material and practical help for parents and carers at Education NSW, including:

  • homework and study tips
  • learning resources
  • ways to deal with the transition from primary to high school
  • student health and safety programs

If you have a child with disability or additional learning needs

Many people, not only parents or carers, can contribute to supporting students with disability and additional learning needs.

This collaborative, personalised approach uses a range of teaching and learning professionals to help make sure every student receives an education.

If you have concerns about your child’s development or progress at school, it’s important to discuss these as soon as practical with the relevant people, including:

  • your child's school principal, teacher or counsellor
  • your family doctor or child’s paediatrician

There are also interpreter services and Aboriginal education assistants available to parents and carers.

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